Deacon Who?

My photo
(Note: Ideas and opinions expressed in this blog are not necessarily shared by the transit agency I work for. This is simply an expression of free speech while describing the work bus operators perform.) I have been (and called) many things in this life. Most of all, I'm a writer who happens to drive a bus. In May of '13 I thought it would be fun to write about my job. As a direct result of this blog, I published a book in November of 2017 called "JUST DRIVE - Life in the Bus Lane" that is available on Amazon. I write to provide insight as to what it's like on a bus... From The Driver Side. Thank you for reading!

Sunday, May 26, 2019

My Week As A Bus Operator

About as close a "selfie" as
Deke N. Blue
has ever come close to.

Deke's Note:
Our recently-departed ATU International President Larry Hanley once told me he wanted someone to write a book about "A Day in the Life" of a transit operator. While I thought my book "JUST DRIVE - Life in the Bus Lane" fit that bill, it was a bit more broad than what President Hanley was thinking of. So this post, after a dreadfully-tense week of murder and untimely death, is dedicated to our departed brothers in the daily struggle known as "transit."

Monday: Back already? Is this a recurring nightmare, or was I in this torture chamber just moments ago? About 48 hours ago, actually. It feels as if I just set the brake in the yard and hopped out with a gargantuan sigh of relief... to be FREE again! But alas, here I go once more.

Up two-and-a-half hours prior to "go time." Shower, groom, dress, prepare lunch and drinks, check the weather to determine which outer wear is vital. Best to prepare for the worst; we say if you don't like the weather in Portland, just wait five minutes. Kiss and hug my beloved. Out the door and into the car. Get to the garage and find a parking place, transit to my road relief point 30 minutes early and earn that whopping two bucks and change relief pay; pennies per hour for an insult. Fill up the water bottle, chat with a brother or sister or several. Potty check (getting too old to say "Oh I'll just go later"). repeat Daily Mantra (yes, I still do after all these years), text my beloved sweet everythings. Climb aboard: water in bottle holder, backpack on the hook with flavored water in outside pocket. Log into display terminal, fare password input. Meanwhile...

"No reroutes, bus running fine, just the usual dumbasses and traffic freaks," the operator tells me, obviously relieved to be leaving. He's looking forward to retirement just weeks away. I'll be lucky if I make it that long. As I begin to roll, my body morphs into Bus Driver Guy mode. Minute seat and mirror adjustments take place the first five minutes. My gaze settles onto the road 12-20 seconds ahead and what lurks behind. I smile when a pax mirror glance reveals a face I haven't seen in a while; I nod and they see me, smile back with a friendly wave.

It's a relatively quiet day; time passes a bit more leisurely at the beginning of the week. Run on time most of the day, careful not to be too early, slip past time points "in the CADdy green." (I see no reason to be anal about being exactly at "0" as long as I'm not burning them too hot.) If people can't be at their stop 2-3 minutes early, it's their bad if I roll past them between stops when I'm 2-3 late. Our agency doesn't bother to lay down the law; it's up to us. If we were to stop for everyone who hails us like we're a cab, we'd never be on time, never get a break and everyone involved the worse off for it.

I roll how I do for a reason: efficiency. I drive the same late or on time... safely. Don't like it? There's always the next bus. You're also welcome to walk in the pouring rain. Makes no difference to me. I'm nice, friendly and pleasant... unless you cross my smooth and silky ride with rude stupidity. I'm not like my management: I have rules which must be followed on my bus, set forth by the laws of common decency. When you do throw a wrench into my lugnuts I tend to roar like my buddy the Rampant Lion. Watch out; I bite too.

Get back on time to the yard, set the brake, drop off the pouch. The same group of us arrive within minutes of each other. We exchange the usual pleasantries and bid farewell, thankful we're all there to do so. One down, too many to go.

So much for the much-heralded "barriers"
our transit agency, and others,
have begun adding to our buses.
Tuesday: Not a good night's rest. Troubling dreams about being stabbed, beaten, shot, any number of atrocities visited upon us. Two fellow operators were murdered last week; one in Milwaukee, the other in Tampa. Try not to tell Beloved all of it. She's heard enough of the dark side of transit, and I hate for her to worry. Still she does; of course it bothers her to wonder if I'll return safely... scares her terribly. But we all stress over the increasing violence: family, friends, our supporting spokes on the wheel in Operations and Maintenance all feel the constant tragedy. It grates and grinds, pushing blood pressure skyward and pounding the temples.

I try to force something nutritional into ye olde gullet before home departure. Stress-induced acid boils in my stomach, dulling the need to break my fast. Same drill getting there and started. Routine is comforting. Break any one of them and you feel an ominous drone following your bus all day. Be safe, I keep repeating when my mind starts to wander.

"Please keep all sounds OFF on your cell phones and other electronic devices," I ask. "Thank you," I add. Doesn't hurt to be polite about it. Isn't that part of my mantra? Oh yeah. What I want to say: "HEY you inconsiderate phone stoners, SHUT OFF THE TUNELESS NOISE SO I CAN HEAR MYSELF THINK!!!" One dolt has headphones on but his repetitive nonsense (is that really music?) is so loud I think there's a problem with the engine. He doesn't hear the announcement, so I SHOUT a repeat. His seatmate gives him a tap on the shoulder and motions that I asked him to turn it down. Off come the headphones. "What?!? I was wearing my headphones!" No shit? I'm tempted to say "We're on a reroute so far removed you missed your stop 20 minutes ago." Instead, I gently request he turn down his volume. Thankfully, he does so.

It begins to rain. I smile. LOVE rain. Keeps people home rather than crowding bus stops like when the sun shines warm. POUR, PLEASE! It does. Sun. Rain. Gets a mite chilly after sundown. End the day a few runs late but nothing serious. End of day, sigh of relief.

Wednesday: "Wacky Wednesday," Operator Dan likes to tease me. But where is he? Damn, poor lad must be fighting his constant ailment again. He tells me to eat okra, I tell him my gas is already deadly enough. Miss my buddy when he's gone... our banter is part of my routine. We share a FaceBook chat with our mutual transit teen pro Brett, who warns me ahead of time what bus my ride will roll on. We also discuss the Blazers... Brett sent me a short video of Dame's last-second shot heard around the hoops world, right after it happened. I was working and obviously couldn't watch and he kept sending me updates. At my last break, the phone was stuck at 11 seconds and wouldn't update. He filled me in.

This day is certainly wacky. People are testing me more, pushing the limits. They know our "help" is spotty and not very responsive. "I'll ride at my own risk," they say, glibly sidling by without a care. A teen shows me a screen shot of his online "pass." I chuckle at his covering up the day code, and hope Fare Inspectors lurk ahead, but I know better. Passengers give me gruff when I ask them to find the trash can three feet from their seat, keep their feet on the floor. They yell "BACK DOOR" at me when the light above their empty heads is brightly-lit green. Green means go, I remind them. Perhaps I should jump out of my seat and hold their little hand as I place it inches from the strip between the handles to activate the sensor which opens the door. It's not neuroscience, for cryin' out fuggin' loud. Shall I walk them across the street too? Get a grip, people... instructions are written on the door right before you.

Motorists are even more rude lately. They speed up when I activate the YIELD light merging back into traffic, only to slam on their brakes and scream obscenities I neither hear nor care about. More lug nuts on this here rig, Bucko, move it or pay for it in ways you don't want to imagine. Thanks, by the way, for telling me I'm Numero Uno with your middle-school sign language, and you're welcome for not sending you to the morgue when you zip in front of me and slam on your brakes. (That'll show that idiot bus driver, they think.) I was ready for it, as usual. Predictable, faceless, useless. Half of you would flunk my driver's test. Hey, should I go into business as a driving instructor? I'd make more money but probably die sooner. I'll just stay pat, deal.

We're ALL Americans in the US, Canada
and Mexico. It's time we act like it.

I'm 10 minutes late due to a road construction crew that doesn't seem to realize buses run on a schedule. They let cars go in the opposite direction a full eight minutes before finally allowing a long line of us to pass, then wave as if they did me a favor. I want to tell them they're Number One, but I'd rather do my job than theirs. Instead, I give a curt nod through gritted teeth, hoping they're not clairvoyant. Good thing our microphones aren't live... my window gets fogged for all the profanity I mutter towards it.

Next comes the hardest part of any operator's job: dealing with Sammy Scumbag. He stands at the stop impatiently awaiting my late arrival. His stuff is on the far side of the shelter, and the stop pole is in its opposite direction. Waits until I get there, then tells me after three other fare-ready passengers have boarded, to wait while he gets his "stuff." Then he leisurely saunters on, grumbling about having to wait so long. (Thirty seconds have passed since my doors opened.) Digs in pants for wallet, which doesn't want to leave his moldy pants. (Now it's 60.) He smells like old cow dung soaked in skunk juice, and he's either drunk, stoned or both. I sigh impatiently (at the 90-second mark).

"Please have your fare ready when you board," I make the mistake of grumbling. "How long were you standing there before I arrived?"

Oops, shouldn't speak my thoughts. Management expects us to be fresh as a jolly old robot, sans emotion. How dare I! Scummy takes offense. Starts in on me how I'm rude and he should drag me off the bus and beat me bloody.

"I wouldn't attempt that, especially right now," I growl. "You'll likely get more than you bargained for, and I can't afford that."

Another no-no. Once again, Micro Manager pipes into the background noise: "Customer Servicey Voice! Tsk tsk!" Come drive a bus an hour in service, MicroMike, then you'll run screaming into the night, never to be heard from again. (Hey, now there's an idea!) I get louder than Sammy Sleazebreath and advise him to sit down and shut his yap, because I'm only afraid of his stench. A few of my heroic regulars, who know I work hard to be safe, smooth and relatively-calm, spring into action.

"Sit down and shut up, or I'll throw you off myself!" a Vietnam Vet tells him. Sammy slams shut. Not so tough after all. But now, the day's beginning to wear on me. I've been late more than usual, missed vital break minutes, and Dispatch tells me Sammy will have to be dealt with en route, because he really hasn't broken any rules. Bullshit. He's broken mine. Guess it's okay that my so-far calmness has been shattered and I'm now rattled tight as a snake. Diminished capacity as an operator can spell disaster. But hey, I'm just another body... we're being replaced with people who are trained to be amenable to ritual insults from every direction. Sigh. (Newbies: take note of this. Don't allow yourselves to be pre-programmed for bullshit management practices. Your very lives depend on your intelligence-while-operating.)

Behave like a halfway-decent human being, or I'll let my passengers deal with you, Scumbreath or whatever other name I feel like calling you.

Somehow, I make it to the yard. My head falls into the steering wheel after I set the brake. I sit there a moment, breathing deeply and trying to realize half the week is complete. Vent to the wife as I drive home, she welcomes me with her patented warm hug. I don't allow myself a cocktail, even though it's a been a typically-rotten day. Lately, I hate my job. Not good. PTSD (Management: "What's that? Big deal!") is taking its toll. I refuse to become an alcoholic, always hated crutches anyway. I'll have a few this weekend, but never to excess. It is funny though... I never drank much until I became a bus operator.

Thursday: Watch out. Customer Service be damned. My boiling point is just a few degrees above freezing. My #BANDTOGETHER cheek bandage reads "41," the number of times my brothers and sisters and I have been threatened, menaced or assaulted this year. (I didn't realize that number was off by one or two already.) The past few days I had worn others for our lost souls of the road, never to be forgotten. I've been sad all week, on edge, too eager for battle. I'm fed up with the few bastards who make it hell on wheels for us, and our decent riders.

Be ready, be nice, or you can fucking walk. I wonder if this should become my new mantra. I'm in no mood for meatheads. But hey... traffic is light, the weather is lovely and still not a heavy load. My leader must be late again. I'll alert Dispatch to throw him into DropOff Only mode if I catch him. Poor dude's paddle smacks him every day. He gets tons of ADA pax, freight trains, drug dealer pimps and junky whores. I pick up his leftovers, mostly decent folks just returning home from work. They're good to me, say hello and thanks. I appreciate them more than they know; I hope they feel the same about me, but they rarely show it. Perhaps I expect too much... just drive, asshole.

All is fine, except for the traffic light on the most heavily-trafficked street of my route, with no rhyme to its lack of reason. Allows left turners a green arrow in the opposite lane (all three of them) to access a parking lot and adjacent Jack in the Box for about an hour. Then when it's our turn, the arrow is green for about six seconds. Three cars scoot through legally, after they are honked back to reality from Cellaroma, followed by a few red light runners too annoyed to wait again. Three light cycles later, I'm in the first position. Cross traffic light turns red, my arrow turns green and immediately slips into blinking yellow as I'm halfway into the intersection. Oncoming traffic rushes up to me, honking. Hey, I'm turning here! No way out of it, gotta go. Not my fault the City of Portland is asleep at the wheel where traffic light sequences are concerned. Horns aplenty, screams of "Stupid bus driver!" from hordes of phone zoners who had to be beeped at when the light turned green. At least my phone is OFF AND STOWED, ROOKIES! Ugh. I'd flunk 80% of any of these I taught, by the looks of their absent skills.

Traffic, nutjobs in and outside the bus, numerous delays, agonizingly-short breaks. Someone pees and/or poops her pants onboard, so I have to get a bus trade because of the biohazard. People ask why I don't kick her off; I can't respond. It's against my nature to publicly shame the offensive offender. It's a good bet she doesn't know she stinks so bad. They're on my bus for 20 minutes, I'm here 50+ hours a week. They see a shot, I smell the barrel. (Ready to drink a barrel, but Daddy taught moderation.) Sometimes, a shot more than I should have is required. Come drive a mile in my shoes and then you'll understand. For the next 48 hours, I don't want to see a bus. No crowd events, festivals, certainly no bus rides. I'll be back soon enough. Until that lucky lottery ticket wins. Ha! Like you, I relish the thought.

Deke was in Chicago earlier in May.
A bit later, I'm treated once again to the brightly-bushy-tailed construction flaggers, who hold me up once more. A decade of minutes click by. They finally wave me past with bright smiles. I glare, point at my watch and wish my bus wasn't zero emissions. Just like Freddy 4x4 and his extra-wide tailpipe spewing diesel smoke, I'd like to bathe their lungs in a blast of black. At least it's my last run. Their taxes will contribute to the hefty overtime I charge for their incompetence.

Back at the garage, I blast the parking brake and kick the farebox. I growl when someone asks how my day went. "Oh," she says, "I'm sorry." She retreats, I escape. Poor lady, she deserves my patented painted-on smile, at least. She was once beaten senseless by a scumbag fare evader and doesn't deserve my cold shoulder. But she gets it. I'm turning into a Grumpy Bus Driver. And they want ME to apply as a trainer? No way. Can't... won't... teach someone to be this guy. Grrr...

Friday: Could it be, at last? It rolls by, at the speed of dark. Yet today is another route, different faces, similar yet distant places. I've been absent the past few weeks, so this time I'm a bit incognito. Extra Board has filled it. In fact, I've missed quite a few of these this signup. Maybe they think I'm EB too. It's just as well.

It's raining. Finally. The Northwest is in spring mode again. We had an early summer flash, and now the sky is cooling us off and adding to the brightness of our emerald forest. I love this, after an earlier life of heat flashes half the year. I hear my dear departed Lady Guttersnipe admonish me for feeling grateful I only board one person using a mobility device all day. Immediately, I feel guilt. Plus, I miss her every time I pass her former home as I drive this route. In fact, the only reason I chose this line was because I miss her... ever so horribly. Lady G taught me what it's like to be disabled on transit, and how to be more patient and helpful to those who need me to understand. Still, I'm able to stay on time all day because the passenger load is relatively light.

Days like this remind me of the fun I still find on the job. People are thankful when I wait as they rush through a downpour to catch my ride. They smile more, chat a bit and cheer me. Folks chat about the weather, the Blazers' latest success, how things were once upon a time, and compliment me more often than usual.

"That was the smoothest ride I've ever had on this line," one man told me on his way off the bus. That meant more to me than 100 customer service commendations ever could. I work very hard to roll smoothly into stops. Even when I predict some bonehead's ill-advised move in traffic, my braking seems just part of the roll, not forced or sloppy. If I do make a mistake, I apologize into the microphone. "Sorry folks, that one was a bit rough. Y'all okay back there?" They appreciate this, because unfortunately, some of my predecessors aren't apologetic whatsoever. It's yet another of Daddy Blue's lessons: always strive to make sure your passengers feel comfortable and safe with you behind the wheel. Check, Dad. And thanks.

As I roll into my assigned track in the yard at the required 5mph, I throw Big Bumpkis into Neutral and let her roll into the first position before I (once again) smoothly bring her to the final stop. Set the brake, flip the air off, make sure all electrical accessories are shut off too, then throw the main switch into OFF position, for the last time. Until... the next time.


Can you see now why Deke is in therapy? Closing in on seven years at this gig, trying to find my way out of the gloom. Don't worry, I always land on my feet. They're pretty big.

Thanks for sticking with me. It may have taken you several minutes to read this, but it took me a full week to write. I appreciate you hanging in there. It is for YOU that I still do this. I say it again: thanks, and I truly mean it.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Thomas Dunn, We Honor Your Sacrifice

Deke's Note: Readers of this blog have, over six years, grown with me through my evolution as a transit operator. It was my sole intention when I began writing to show what I  think and feel "in the seat." After years of self-examination, especially over the past month, I now realize where I am, and why I'm still here. Only a handful speak for US. It is thus why I cannot, will not, stand down. This post is dedicated to the memory of Thomas Dunn, Irvine Fraser and all who have been brutally attacked or murdered while doing their job.

Over the past several months, you have noticed my unbridled anger. I've been furious, actually. A reader mentioned this after one of my fiery posts, and it made me wonder. Was I mad? Yes. I realized this after agonizing soul-searching and reflection. I am angry. Why? Simply because I'm scared. Terrified. Worried. Frustrated. And ultimately, alone most of the time, especially in the jaws of the dangerous beast our management is too quick to protect: the constant troublemaker on transit.

A few days ago, Operator Thomas Dunn of HART (Hillborough Area Rapid Transit in Tampa, FL) was fatally stabbed as he drove his bus. Mortally wounded, Mr. Dunn stopped and secured his bus before paying the ultimate sacrifice of a public servant. His professionalism as his lifeblood poured from him saved his passengers from injury.

I sobbed as I told my wife this tragic story, because it's a fate we all could succumb to as transit operators. The sad thing about it is: we'll just be replaced without much more than a fare-thee-well from our management. I doubt they'd even show up for our funeral.

Safety be damned. We're just lug nuts on the wheel, even though we're the ones constantly facing the danger. Management sits back and relaxes while we face the tragic consequences of their heartless rollback of transit code in order to satisfy some spreadsheet warrior's push to keep our buses "on time." Such bullshit puts us all in danger, but that doesn't seem to be important.

HART management's press conference afterward was another example of corporate nobodies spouting superfluous nonsense in defense of some fantasy "safety culture" as their operator lay on a slab in the county morgue.

Mr. Dunn had appealed to his agency's board five months ago after being assaulted, being spit upon and suffering an injury to his arm.

"It seems to me," he told them, "Admin is taking care of Admin and not taking care of the spokes in the wheel that actually make this company work."

Sound familiar? It does to me. His agency's CEO and Director of Security told the media after Mr. Dunn's gruesome murder on their bus at their news conference about the tragedy that "safety is our number one concern." Bullshit. They ALL say that, but we know better. They study, study, and study some more, and ultimately fail the test. Every...damn... time. They bragged about the passengers' safety, but no real information was given about the failure to protect Thomas Dunn. Not... one... word.

Operator Dunn was a father of six, serving a public just like we all do each day of every year. He transported people safely to and from their destination, and his asshole murderer must have not wanted to follow the rules of transit. Our late brother may have said something to that effect, insisting code of conduct be obeyed. Not having any protection, Mr. Dunn was killed just for doing his job.

We lost our ATU International President this week, and I'm sure Larry Hanley would already be in Florida raising hell with the incompetents who run HART, if he was still with us.

Many of us in Portland have appealed to our local transit agency board, to little or no avail. I tried once, and was met with bored nods and sleepy glares. We have pleaded with them to get this right, if nothing else. They're all protected in their ivory world, none of them having driven a bus. They have not felt the danger we face every day we work for the agency they oversee. Our own management brags about safety on the system, but the assaults and incidents against drivers keep piling up. Just last year, two people were killed as they defended two girls from a deranged assailant.

Instead of taking proactive, protective measures for our safety's sake, management is more concerned about harassing us over cell phone use, on-time performance and allowing the homeless to use our vehicles as rolling motels. They don't care about the service animal frauds (unless one of these mutts attacks a true service animal, at which point they blame US), and they don't think parents should have to take their children out of strollers and fold them up. When someone on board starts spouting insane nonsense, threatening us and/or abusing our passengers, our management is more concerned about their "freedom of speech" than with our safety and ability to maintain a reasonably-safe and peaceful ride for those who actually pay to ride. No wonder ridership has been declining the past several years. Management protects the wrong segment, while championing the "rights" of the wrong.

What about our right to safety and security? We're not allowed to carry anything that could be considered a weapon, and if we use a tool to ward off an assailant we are subject to suspension or even termination just for protecting ourselves. No sensible adult would find this acceptable, which says something about our management which is not even close to complimentary.

What happens to those who terrorize fellow passengers in the air? On interstate rail? On ships? They're immediately and forcibly held for arrest at the nearest possible point. In our case, these fools are often gone before authorities arrive. We're the most vulnerable of transit operators, yet legislators complain that we ask for "special treatment." Fuck you, legislators. I doubt you have the cajones to do this job, let alone persevere for decades under the threat of your very existence. Get off your lazy thrones and ACT before this murderous trend explodes. Come ride with me, and I'll show you several instances of people who deserve prison time for their unwanted antics on public transit. But no, you're too scared to do what we so desperately need out here. In other words, you're completely useless, not worthy of my vote.

Brother Thomas Dunn, who died
while driving a bus. His sacrifice
deserves MUCH more than
"love and prayers."
Our plight is evidently boring to the local news media. Unless something bloody happens, they're too busy whining about the "rights" of the homeless population, which is often the largest segment of troublemakers on transit. Hey, I'm sorry so many people are on the streets, but it's not my fault. Nor is it that of the thousands of my co-workers who are the "spokes of the wheel." Perhaps if the federal  government during the Reagan administration had not ended funding for mental health services many of these people need, they wouldn't be wandering the streets causing trouble and leaving mounds of garbage in their wake. God knows our state, local and federal governments tax the hell out of us, but the money keeps flying out of our pockets while we keep getting beat up, or in Mr. Dunn's case, murdered.

All the tension builds up as we're constantly verbally and physically abused. It boils to a head, and when we respond, we're called on the carpet. Nobody calls our management on its failures, because transit is a rogue government within itself. It's not subject to any oversight. The "Bored" of Directors is not elected, yet has the authority to levy taxes. Management does nothing to educate the public we serve about how to even ride transit or what rules govern its use.

So hell yes, I'm angry. I grieve for the father of six children who must now endure without this great man. I'm also disturbed and often scared. On my Friday nights I'm able to drown that week's pressure cooker with a little whisky to still my nerves. By the end of the weekend, my blood pressure rises and the anxiety level starts to climb. I'm irritable at that point because I don't know what critical issues I'll have to deal with the next five days. Still, like thousands of others who share my profession, I show up to work not knowing whether my wife will become a widow before the end of my shift.

Sure, transit is installing barriers on buses, and puffs up proudly about this, as if it's the ultimate stop-gap to the violence we routinely face. Their ignorance is frustrating. It takes time and money to install these baubles, they tell us. Unfortunately, barriers leave us vulnerable. A tall person could still reach around or over it to attack us. Plexiglas will not stop a bullet. We also have to occasionally leave the seat sometimes.

Expand the transit police division, and make their patrol areas small enough to ensure they're available when needed. Hire more supervisors and make their districts smaller and overlapping, with shift changes that make them available every moment we're in service. Have cops ride our buses and show a presence that discourages disruptive or violent behavior. Cite motorists who road rage us and refuse to yield. Educate the riding public about how to ride, how to behave on public transit. Insist passengers adhere to transit code rather than catering to their worst behavior. Back the operators who routinely face disrespectful treatment every moment we serve. In short, get off your  lazy and ineffective asses and PROTECT US!

For this entire week of service, I invite all who roll wheels to join me in wearing a black armband in solidarity. I'll do so in honor of my departed union brother, Thomas Dunn of HART. Please join me. Love and prayers for his family at this point will not dull their pain. Our lives are at stake, and it seems the only people who actually give a damn are those of us who do this job.

Roll safe, I hope and pray for you all.

Deke N. Blue

Sunday, May 19, 2019

A Nod to Chicago and Family Roots

A cold rain fell as I traced the steps of my father,
who mourned these people who led him forth.

Deke's Note: As I write, the tunes of Chicago Transit Authority's earliest days (as a band) are usually blasting through my headphones. When this band exploded onto the airwaves in 1967, I was but a wee lad. The song "Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?" resonates with me still, even though time rules my every working day. I don't usually care either, but I know the precise time instinctively. Anyway, I recently visited the beautiful, huge and vastly-different and refreshingly-exciting city of Chicago, Illinois. A week since my arrival, I finally have time to chronicle my travels. Being absent from the family during Mother's Day Weekend requires certain great amounts of kissing-up to my beloved. It's time now...

I moved to Portland almost two decades ago from Tucson, which has a tiny downtown. Portland's city district seemed huge in comparison to any Arizona city, and incredibly-beautiful to boot. I'm still (and forever) enamored by its graceful beauty, backdropped by the West Hills and eastern vistas of Mt. Hood/Mt. St. Helens and beyond. At sunrise, the colors bestow a mystically-pinkish glow to our nearly 200-year-old city centre. Deer still roam early morns, the river remains shrouded in misty fog many mornings, and the earliest rays of our local star enshrine the skyscrapers in a panorama of visual orgasm.

Uncle Richard holds my gift for his birthday.
Last weekend, I traveled eastward into my birthplace, the Land of Lincoln and south-central Illinois. Having lost my father last year, I wanted to reconnect with the land in which he spent his youth. It remains mostly the same, except for typical chain businesses and freeways. The land and its farms retain the Midwest aura of honest hard work by decent people.

Dad left farming early, having run a farm at age 13 when his father died. Until it soured him, he was of a long line of farmers back to his Germany family origins of the 1600s. He couldn't wait to leave this life, and volunteered for the Army during World War II when he turned 18. A musician, Dad played in the Army Jazz Band until all hands were needed and they sent him to a sure-death when we poised to attack the Japanese homeland. Thank God for President Harry Truman dropping the first A-bombs to end the Pacific Theater of that horridly-long war, or I wouldn't have been conceived.

Visiting the graves of grandparents and others and with my aging uncle and aunt, I also met cousins beloved and those previously unknown. A cold rain could not dampen the love I found there. It was very soothing to revisit my once-distant roots. It grounded me once again, as one of my family's newer members of the "older generation." My life has been blessed in many ways, mostly by the dedication of parents and other relatives paving the way. Without my parents' loving guidance, I would have wasted away in some "institution" for the forgotten discards who were less-than-perfect. Not one day goes by during which I give thanks to my parents for their tireless efforts to ensure our success as human beings. Much of their steadfast principles were a direct result of the Midwesterners' way of life. This life's journey began there, and continues here in every action I take. This blog is a direct result of that deeply-ingrained sense of family and purpose.

The "Sears-Roebuck" house
my father was born in.
Wandering the back roads which were there when Dad was a pup, I marveled at the rolling farmlands, the groves of oak trees surrounding majestic old farmhouses and corresponding barns. I had seen them before, but it had been decades since I last visited. My aunt directed me to the farmhouse she and Dad had been born in; the bed itself is one of our family's prized antiques and saw the births of four generations. My brothers and I, and our cousins, were the first in the family born in hospitals. The old farmhouse looked unchanged but lovingly maintained. My grandfather ordered the house as a prefab kit from Sears-Roebuck catalog around 1920. It arrived at the local railroad station, every piece (including nails) marked with directions for construction. Grampa's friends and family helped transport it all to the homesite, where they had a "raising." Nearly 100 years later, it retains the charm and style Grandma probably adored when she helped pick the design.

On my way out of town after leaving the home of my late cousin, whose lovely wife had put me up for the night and fed me a hearty breakfast after a long night of drink and fun, I stopped to see my uncle again. The family reunion had not been ideal for visiting. We sat together a half-hour as I listened to him while playing with his great grandchildren. It was a magical moment in time that will be forever etched in my memory. This man grew up with my father. He probably knew him better than any of his sons did. We chatted about Dad's singing; I played some MP3's of Dad's songs which he enjoyed. His eyes misted when that magical tenor voice leapt back to life. So did mine. He misses his brother, I miss my hero father.

When I departed, it felt as if I should stay all day just to catch up. Later, I felt guilty for not spending more time with a beloved part of my family. But time lives a heartbeat, as the past grows ever long. It was time to make the next part of my journey. My uncle knew this trip was dedicated to not only my immediate family, but also to those I share a brotherhood with: my transit family. It was time to roll wheels again.

A few hours later, I entered the state's largest and most notorious, Windy City. The home of Al Capone, Richard Daley, and countless other historic figures. I wanted a taste of this metropolis from which I emerged nearly 60 years ago.

When this operator visits a different locale, curiosity draws me to ride transit. I want to meet fellow operators, get their take on the state of our profession. To experience their lives even if just for a fleeting moment. Watching them drive, feel the road as they do. Their heads swivel with the flow as mine does each moment behind the wheel. What do they see that I do not? The people are the same as my pax. Do they view them as "customers?" Most do not. They are simply precious (or sometimes not so much) cargo. It's a job. One we ALL take seriously.

I boarded four buses and two "El" trains during my brief stay. While the announcements and scenery were vastly different than those in Portland, the feel was the same. Miles pass us by in the same way. Lights to judge and traffic to second-guess, pedestrians to watch out for, countless immediate obstacles to avoid; it's all the same. While I didn't have the opportunity to speak with my fellow operators in detail, I got the impression their situations closely mirror my own.

Chicago's downtown district is several times larger than Portland's. Where we have a "transit mall," it simply has stops not unlike those all over is wide circumference. The "El" rumbles above the trafficky fray, rather than amongst. Plus, it hauls ass. Our light rail rolls at a snail's pace in comparison, because it is on the same level as vehicular traffic. Several lines traverse the same tracks, especially in the "Loop" area downtown. Every few minutes, trains race past at about 35-50mph above traffic below. In order to access the rail service, you have to ascend about 40-feet to the platform. You cannot access the boarding area without fare, usually a pass you flash onto a reader. It's so much more efficient than any Portlander is accustomed to.

The consummate self-promoter, I boarded each ride armed with a Deke business card. Three of four bus drivers were very pleased and interested in my pitch, one could not have cared less. None of them insisted a fellow operator from another city pay for their service, which I found very welcoming and in solidarity for our common profession. Given our International President of Amalgamated Transit Union Larry Hanley had just died, I truly felt accepted by my Chicago counterparts. They were receptive to learning about this blog and related book, and were as interested and engaged as they could be, given the immense responsibility their jobs entailed.

Chicago uses a great number of articulated buses (long and sectionally-pivoted vehicles) of the New Flyer brand. They seemed cleaner than ours. The operator compartments were protected by more full-shields than our pitiful ones, but I didn't have time to query the operators about what they think of these recently-necessary monstrosities.

The downtown stops are modeled differently than Portland's. Where we have specific stops downtown, they seem to share many stops with other lines. It must take a half-hour or more to glide through downtown Chicago than it does here. Passengers are largely-prepared to board, and operators efficiently service stops with ease and authority. At one stop, I stepped in to do my usual Deke promotion, but the operator must have been a bit late because he thumbed me behind the Yellow Line with a disinterested twist of his head. He ignored my offering of a business card; obviously, he's been in this gig long enough to know all the stories.

Skipping around a bascially-10-block circumference from my hotel, my experience was limited and brief. But what I saw gave me great respect for those who make transit work in the Windy City. If one of my CTA brothers or sisters read this, I want them to know I was truly impressed with their skill and professionalism. Their respect for me as well, was also very much appreciated.

Thanks Chicago, and I wish you safe rolls every mile. It was fun while it lasted, and I'll be back.

My trip was of a twofold purpose: to reconnect with two families. This post is therefore dedicated to my parents, extended family and all our ancestors, as well as those with whom I share an invaluable profession.

It is finally, a shout-out to my wonderful brothers and sisters of transit everywhere. In this case, specifically to those who roll the wheels of rail and bus in America's Infamous Windy City.

Thank you to every member of my "family." You read this, you support us with love and understanding, and you remain in my heart every mile I travel. Peace be with you all.

With respect, I am
Deke N. Blue

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Critter Bus Rumble

Deke's Note: In order to return this blog to its roots, I'm finding the "fun" in my job again. While taking a break from the woes we face in the great beyond, the wilderness found me.

Springtime dawned in the Great Nor'west
Flowers sprouting, some warmth in the air;
A winter's sleep ends, at nature's behest
A great hunger began, for one wee bear.

I found him lurking in Priority Seating
Licking some discarded candy wrapper;
Growling as I snatched it, he was not retreating
Sporting a bow tie and looking quite dapper.

He bit me on finger, hand and wrist
Assaulted by a furry lil' beastly critter;
Having none of this, I showed my fist
Fearing Al would feature it on Twitter.

He scampered over the seat and swung
I next found him hiding in a hand-hold;
Then crouching, he let loose some putrid dung
Three aces in hand, he refused to fold.

Fierce, cuddly-lookin' cub bounded past me
Into my operator's seat then onto the wheel;
He pretended driving without care, with glee
And I missed another grab, provoking an angry squeal.

Out the driver's window he flew
Bounced off the mirror onto a wiper blade;
His boldness only grew and grew
His antics were cute, my anger began to fade.

He flipped through the door and onto the Hopper
The feisty lil' critter began to lose steam;
If Mama Bear came near I'd never stop her
Then I awoke, realizing it was all but a dream.

As I lay there yawning, rubbing sleepy eyes
Pondering a funny thought, I uttered a snort;
Of all the things we've seen, girls and guys
For once, I won't be writing a report.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Off to Chicago I Go!

I'm bound for (Sweet Home) Chicago, hoping to meet some CTA operators. One driver in particular, whoever you are, will receive a complimentary/signed copy of "JUST DRIVE - Life in the Bus Lane" for your literary enjoyment.

Looking forward to riding the infamous "El" (Elevated Train) to downtown from Midway Airport. On Sunday/Monday, I will be searching for my next victim, an "impromptu Deke encounter" which involves a greeting from a Portland bus operator to my brother/sister of the road on their home court. I did this in Phoenix last year, and when offered one of my books, Lady Operator looked askance at me and said, "Just put it behind my seat." I'm not sure if she used it for toilet paper or what. Never heard a word. However, my Spokane brother Paul not only had heard of this blog, but reads it regularly and we hope to meet up when he visits Portland this summer! You never know in this wacky world we call a career.

It's been another interesting, challenging week (although abbreviated) as a bus driver. I'm really looking forward to this quick trip to the Land of Lincoln, my favorite president. I haven't been there since I drove an 18-wheeler 20+ years ago, so I'm really looking forward to it.

In my absence, I wish all my fellow operators safe travels. We've been beaten up in horrible fashion here in Portland this year already. I pray it doesn't happen to YOU, but if it does, stay calm and REFUSE to continue in service afterward. PRESS CHARGES against your assailant, if not for yourself but for all of us. Tell Henry Beasley, inform your union rep, and take a few days off. Your passengers are not safe if you operate with diminished capacity.

Also, I will be praying for ATU International President Larry Hanley's family, and for our union members over the loss of our beloved and esteemed leader.

Other than that, I will continue to heal the Deke. You deserve better from me, and I aim to deliver once again. Until then, keep all six on the road, willya? And watch out for idiots... they're breeding like rabbits these days.



Thursday, May 9, 2019

Thanks, President Larry

Deke's Note: I had planned to work on another writing project tonight, a continuing effort to rejuvenate the playful, fun Deke. Earlier today on a break from my route, I learned that the President of Amalgamated Transit Union International, Larry Hanley, had died. It took a moment for this to sink in, but it did with a lead weight. He was very helpful, kind and responsive, and I'll never forget him.

Lawrence J. Hanley

You left us too soon. Although I never met you Mr. Hanley, your words and assistance were invaluable to me when I published my book. Today, I took a moment when I heard you were gone. Inhaled deeply, sighed it back out. I had hoped to thank you personally someday.

When I emailed you back in December '17 about publishing the book "JUST DRIVE - Life in the Bus Lane," you were quick to reply with a short note of support. You didn't just buy one copy of the book, you bought 10. Distributed them to your staff with an expectation they read and gave feedback. It was a measure of respect I'll always cherish.

You were a busy man, and your replies to my emails were concise but timely. Your generosity was obviously one of your many good traits. When you had a blurb inserted to the ATU International magazine "In Transit," I asked for a few extra copies. You sent 100. When I asked for a quote on the Supreme Court's Janus decision, you responded quickly and were optimistic that our brothers and sisters would continue to support the union which works so hard for its members.

My heart aches for your family. You were truly a hard-working, decent man who cared about US. I'm sure you were a wonderful husband and father as well. I'm sure I speak for my fellow brothers and sisters in wishing your family our intensely-deep sympathies.

It is my sincere hope that your legacy of service resonates with those left to fill your shoes. It's a monumental task. You gave every ounce of energy to ensure transit workers (and other union members) are treated with respect and dignity.

You will be missed greatly, President Hanley. Thank you for your dedication to the working men and women of transit. Rest in heavenly peace, kind sir.

Respectfully sad,
Deke N. Blue

Sunday, May 5, 2019

My Birthday Bash in the Portland Sun

Today is my Pseudonym Birthday, and I'm six years old. It's astonishing to have written over a million words here, in this short life; I will try not to double that number here.

I've done a lot of soul wandering the past few weeks as I drove my routes. The recurring tune in my rolling video has been how very grateful I am to have you read so many of my 400+ posts. You read in Portland, Chicago, Halifax, Orlando, Dublin, Toronto, Newport, Denver, Spokane, Los Angeles, Sydney, Edinburgh... it amazes me to know our collective plight is one that is shared no matter where we work. I am humbled by your coming back. It's every writer's dream to be read worldwide. You have inspired me to publish my book, JUST DRIVE - Life in the Bus Lane. Each time you click onto this link, you have added to its 285,000 hits. It is unreal to me, that I have touched so many with my humble keyboard rambling.

Your words of support and encouragement helped bring From the Driver Side along when I wondered if the words had withered away like Portland's grass does when the rains stop in early summer. Warming me during the deep winter chills, you kept me from slipping down the perilous slopes of artistic slumps. Chastising me when I needed it, you helped set my crooked mind straighter than a paddle crease. You are as much a part of Deke as the writer, for you have been with me from Day 1: May 5, 2013. Thank you, from the bottom of my new bottle of Irish whiskey, or heart... whichever is deeper at the moment.

No matter how hard I've thought, I cannot come up with the perfect phrase to show you the deep well of appreciation I have for you. Through this blog, I've made many new friends. Many times I have strayed from my original intent for this writing project, and you have gently (or otherwise) guided me back. Thank you again for all you have given me. Deke is truly blessed by your generosity, and for the often-lengthy time it takes you to read my humble keystrokes. I hope to be with you the length of my career. At my funeral someday far into the future (I hope), you must be mentioned in my eulogy, for you have shared every moment I've written about this career and I truly love you for it.

For all the times I wanted to quit and you reached out from all corners of the globe to lift me back up, thank you. To all who have bought my book and taken the time to let me, and potential buyers, know how those words struck a chord in you, my deepest gratitude is too shallow a sentiment for how wonderful it feels. I am truly honored to have been interviewed by the Northwest Labor Press, The Portland Tribune and Oregon Public Broadcasting's "Think Out Loud." I was even featured on Halifax, Nova Scotia's NEWS 95.7 Sheldon Macleod Show, which was a treat.

Larry Hanley, President of Amalgamated Transit Union International; Shirley Block and the Executive Officers of ATU Local 757 and all my fellow operators, station agents, maintenance workers, supervisors, trainers, dispatchers and all who make our wheels roll... you are part of my family and I am deeply in debt to you for your constant support. It is you, and to our collective efforts, to whom this blog is dedicated.

The only group I haven't mentioned yet is our management. It's sad that not only do they know about this blog, but they have decided it isn't worth mention. Your silence is heard by thousands of readers worldwide, and it speaks volumes of your indifference to our plight. I've begged you to respond, to acknowledge my efforts to weave common sense into our collective struggle. Common ground exists between all parties working toward a common goal; it simply requires a few from both sides to reach across the aisle for a connection to sprout and grow. When management refuses to even acknowledge this blog, it proves they have no desire to bridge the widening gap between those of us who make the wheels roll. But I digress... we've been down that road so many times the ruts are widening too deep for repair. Hopefully I'm wrong, but I'd likely lose my job rather than see a positive change in that regard.

My life as a bus operator has been rewarding. It has given my family a decent wage to live upon. Until I scored this gig, we didn't know how to make ends meet after my last job ditched me for corporate outsourcing. We had two kids to feed and were close to our breaking point. My beloved wife trusted me when I told her "it will all be okay," even when I doubted it for the first time in my life. I was scared; for the first time ever, I had been unemployed for years. It took a long-ingrained self confidence to hold on to my belief that anything is possible through perseverance. Even then, I was nervous. Yet here we are: me poking the bear that feeds me, with her cubs supporting my artistic endeavor. Thanks my beloved, for believing in my alternating optimism and wavering pessimism. Without my lady love, I would have sunk beyond salvation decades ago.

Today, I'll celebrate this milestone with my beloved and some very close friends. A springtime barbecue with some dear people I wouldn't have met if not for this crazy career. I'll toast your patronage with a hearty sip of Diet Coke because I don't drink spirits when I have to drive somewhere. We'll laugh and enjoy this beautiful Portland spring weather. It's sure to be an afternoon to remember with wonderful people I cherish being with.

Meanwhile, thanks again my dear readers. You are the reason I'm here, and don't ever forget it. Peace and love be with you all.


The Sun Sets

Patrick's Note: It has been nearly a week since Deke N. Blue passed from his bloggery life. It has taken that long to come to terms with...